Thoughts from She’s Geeky: Being “Present” Despite Technology

One of the great sessions I attended at She’s Geeky unConference was one on “Being Present” in what you are doing, even though smart phones, email and other technologies clamor for our attention multiple times a day.
I admit that my BlackBerry is never far from my side.  Work emails, personal emails, Twitter and even Facebook raise alerts on my phone on a pretty regular basis.  It’s often hard to ignore them, especially when I’m known for responding quickly.  Not only do I feel like I’m staying current with what’s going on in my life and helping those that need my attention, random alerts from the device are equivalent to the intermittent reward system that makes slot machines so popular and addictive.  
It’s true – each little beep and ding give us a shot of chemicals in the brain that keep us wanting more and clearly many of us keep going back for it.  It’s now the “norm” for smart phones to take their place on the restaurant table next to the salt and pepper shakers.
I know what did it for me – unlimited texting. Texting quickly became my preferred mode of communicating.  Quick and to the point when I needed that, but also a way to have long random conversations with friends over the course of the day.  I perceived it as a way to be LESS intrusive than a phone call.  The receiver of the message could respond when they had the time.  But really, it became the best way for me to NOT have to be fully engaged with the person I was communication with.  I could text at my leisure – meanwhile researching a project, organizing my desk, or completing other tasks that I wouldn’t be able to do if I was on a phone call.
Soon that “polite” nudge of text message became a driving force to steal my attention and I’ve let it. And it just opened the door for emails and tweets and other alerts.  I’m a slave to my smart phone.  You probably are too.  Don’t deny it.
So how do we break the chain?  Screen-free days where we put down the phones and iPads and walk away from the computer?  I don’t know if I can do that for 24 hours, honestly.  How about dialing down the notifications on your phone?  Or declaring a room or area of your home “phone free”? 
I’m going to try a few things: I’m starting out by turning off the sounds for Facebook alerts and all emails.  I will also put it on vibrate or silent when I go to bed at night.  And maybe when I’m home I’ll find one central place to put it, instead of moving it around as I move around.  And of course, I need to be more aware of when I’m denying someone who’s in front of me my full attention – the phone needs to stay off the dinner table at my house.
Do you have other suggestions for staying “present” while your devices beckon?  Leave a comment.

BlackBerry BES Small Business Edition – Where to Go Next

We hadn’t planned for 16 users. Several years ago when given the task to provide BlackBerry and other mobile device support, it was only planned for executive and IT users.  I cycled through several products over the years, including ones that supported Palm devices, but spent the last couple years managing a single BlackBerry BES SBE server.  This version has a 15 user license limit, which was a non-issue up until recently. However, the broader adoption of mobile devices smart phones has lead to our office being more willing to supply those devices to other staffers and recently I’ve gotten the request that has put me over the mark for our existing server.
BlackBerry offers two options for those in my situation – A) Upgrade to the full BES edition (Enterprise) or B) Switch to BES Express.  (There is also a hosted service available, but I’m only considering in-house services at this time.) Some pros and cons are as follows:
  • PROS: Easier upgrade path from SBE, no need to wipe and reactivate devices. 
  • CONS: There is a cost of about $2600 depending on where you get your server license; only supports devices with enterprise data plans.
  • PROS: Free; supports up to 75 users when installed on the mail server, supports more users when installed on separate server; supports devices with enterprise or personal data plans.
  • CONS: No migration or upgrade path from SBE or PRO editions of BES, but can be run in conjunction with an existing server; devices will need to be wiped and reconfigured for the new server.
For my scenario, I can’t justify the additional expense of a server OS to run Express separately to support extra users, even if my goal is to eventually migrate my SBE users over time.  Keeping two Blackberry servers is simply overkill for 16 users.  Wiping devices is painful for end users and a headache I don’t plan to go looking for.
While there are upgrade costs associated with going to the Enterprise version, its a one time change that will likely be cheaper in the long run once the costs of my time and the extra management that comes with an additional server is taken into consideration.  Guess it’s time for me to place that software order…

Travel Wishlist for Calendaring and Time Zones

As the end of TechEd draws near, I’ve started looking ahead to next week on my calendar and find myself annoyed with the way time zones are handled in the applications I use to manage my schedule. I use Outlook 2007 at work, Google Calendar for my personal schedule and then sync them together with Google Sync on my BlackBerry.

I know scheduling across times zones is a necessary evil with today’s distributed workforce and it’s great that my appointments are adjusted to the proper time when I’m coordinating with people in other parts of the country. But I wish I could specify on my calendar what time zone I’d like “see” for any given range of days.

For example, an appointment that I have at 10am next Tuesday on the west coast, is going to be at 10am local time on the day I am in that time zone. Today (while in New Orleans for TechEd) if I look at that appointment it reports that it’s scheduled for noon, because my entire calendar reflects my current time zone. If someone calls me and wants to schedule something else for Tuesday, I have to convert the time zone in my head for my existing appointments before I can commit to another event on the west coast. (If everyone sent me calendar invites via email with meeting requests, this would be less of an issue, but that’s hardly realistic expectation from my dentist, for example.)

My calendar “wish” is a feature that would allow me to specify that my calendar reflect all my appointments is the Pacific time zone, unless I change a range of dates to use an alternate zone or to match the zone on my computer or mobile device. This way future appointments would be reflected in time zones that are relevant to my expected physical location at the time of the meeting, not my physically location at the time I’m looking at my calendar. Basically, it would be a little “override” feature for the way calendaring handles time zones now.

By no means have I thought out all the details of how this should work and I’ll be the first person to admit that I don’t think like a developer, but I’m gonna toss my “wish” out there into the wind. Who knows, maybe a feature in the next version of Outlook will be my idea. (Or maybe this is already possible and it’s just not clear to me… either way, I want it!)

Two Links from my last 24 Hours

It’s been a busy last few days, but I don’t want to forget a couple of links that have been useful recently.

The first comes from @nelz9999, who shared a link about managing geeks in the corporate environment. The second was happened upon by a co-worker as we were troubleshooting a BlackBerry trackball that wasn’t working properly. This is how you get those little things clean, but be careful when dealing with those tiny magnetic rollers.

UberTwitter – Beta 6 Released

I was happy to discover that 2010 brought an updated release to my favorite Twitter client for the BlackBerry, UberTwitter. This release supports some of the new features of Twitter, including lists and the updated retweet function. In addition to the added functionality, the UI has been updated to make it easier to access your DM and @ replies. The application icon looks a little too close to the Facebook icon on the BlackBerry for my taste, but perhaps that was done on purpose.

I’ve been using the free version, which has some advertising, but decided to spent the nominal fee to upgrade to the paid version this year. Since I’ve been using Twitter more and more to communicate with other tech-minded folk and get news, I figure it’s the least I can do.

See you in the Twitterverse!

Drive Safer with DriveSafe.ly

I’m addicted to my Blackberry and thus addicted to text messaging and the instant access to my email. I’ve overcome some of my need to check it obsessively with each “ding” or “beep” by assigning different sounds to different email accounts, txt messages and UberTwitter so I can better identify what arrived without looking. But it’s still hard for me to avoid sneaking a peak when I’m at a stop light. I’ve considered setting the phone to silent or to my custom “phone only” sound scheme when driving, but I often forget to do that until the first SMS message arrives after I’m already well on my way.

A post about a potential solution to this crossed my twitter feed via @mamamezlove the other day and I think it might do the trick – Drivesafe.ly, an application that reads your incoming texts and emails outloud. The free version only reads 25 words of your messages, but that’s often more than enough for a text message. For those who need more, there are two levels of paid service – monthly and a one-time “life of the phone” license.
And because it’s not always appropriate for your messages to be spoken outloud, it’s easy to toggle on and off and adjust the volume of the speaking voice.

Right now this software is only available for Blackberry OS 4.5 and Android OS 1.5, but iPhone, Windows Mobile and Symbian are expected to be coming soon.